Estate Planning – Your On-Line Assets

We’ve already talked about basic estate planning and how it is essential that everyone does it – but what about those of us who have accumulated a significant on-line presence as well?

Below are some basic facts and some helpful tips when including your digital assets in your estate plan.

What are digital assets?

Assets will generally fall into three categories:

  • The ability to access on-line accounts (on-line bill paying, etc.)
  • Accounts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Actual digital assets such as photos or videos, medical records or tax returns

Most Important- Pennsylvania has no specific statute that deals with how a deceased or incapacitated person’s digital assets may be dealt with in the event of their death.

Recently the Pennsylvania House has seen legislation which would allow a personal representative to handle mails, text messages, and social networking sites, but unfortunately that bill has floundered and hasn’t really gone anywhere.

That being said, there are several ways that you can set out a plan for dealing with your on-line presence in the event of your death. Some helpful tips:

  1. Keep a detailed list of all of the accounts and passwords you have, including the answers to those "secret questions" as well. Make sure you give this to your attorney when you're doing your estate plan, and if/when you change password or usernames update the list. These types of assets and the way you access them will change regularly, so make sure you stay on top of this.
  2. Discuss with your attorney what you want to happen with those accounts – if a certain person should be appointed and given access to allow them to either shut down the accounts or in the event of a business, continue to run them under the business name.
  3. Draft appropriate documents, whether it’s a Power of Attorney to allow someone to act on your behalf when you’re incapacitated, a clause in a will that gives your executor or another representative access to these accounts/files, or a separate letter from you to your executor detailing your wishes and how you want these things to be carried out.
  4. Check the policies of social networking sites – most of them have specific policies with respect to what happens when a user dies, or when an account has been inactive for a certain period of time.
  5. Also keep in mind that just because you have given someone your username and password, privacy laws may still see accessing your account as violating the law, so you need some type of written plan in place to give them the authority to do so.

For a referral to an attorney with whom you may discuss your on-line assets in estate planning, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at (412) 261-5555.